You could be forgiven for thinking an exhibition opening in Coventry this week was a spoof, a satirical piece of work by some comedian gently taking the mickey out of today’s increasingly woke art world. More’s the pity, it isn’t.
Advance press releases for ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking’ (opening on October 2) promise art by 13 artists, all discussed on the bases of identity and politics, as is expected in a British tax-funded public venue in 2020.
Organisers at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum discuss the race, migration status and family origins of the artists involved, but neglect to describe their artistic achievements or the objects to be displayed.
Topics to be covered include the marital disappointment of Pakistani women, the experience of a female Chinese migrant, and “Black female subjectivities within narratives of the future.” As a response to Black Lives Matter, the collective Hyphen-Labs is showing a virtual-reality piece about “Black women as neuroscientists using the domain of the beauty salon as a rebel underground network for a radically new shared system of communication.” What?
Visitors can view the art of Keith Piper (which castigates the supposed indifference of white Britons regarding an arson attack in London in 1981), and Eddie Chambers’ exploration of nationalism and fascism. His image fusing the British Union Flag and a swastika is a promotional image. Shama Khanna “will write a critical research piece” about an art-sharing website. Herbert Art Gallery’s race-based programming surfaces again in its hosting of a discussion of “NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism Research.”
Artivism: Moralising, Boring, Tax-Funded
This exhibition is linked to next year’s Coventry City of Culture events and the 2021 Coventry Biennial; organisers admit, “we [Coventry Biennial] are an activist organisation.” ‘Thirteen Ways of Seeing’ is “artivism” – the exploitation of art funding, venues and status by Neo-Marxist social-justice activists. This is facilitated by venues which need to meet race/sex/sexuality/immigrant quotas. Now that postmodernism has dismantled common standards of art criticism, neither artists nor administrators need to bother about disguising propaganda as art. Potential smears of racism, homophobia and xenophobia silence visitors and critics.
The exhibition lays clear funding connections between activists; it is supported by local universities, which promote post-modernism in their art courses. Another partner is the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, an activist organisation which has in its mission statement the following aim: “Instigate systemic change within the sector addressing inequalities by dismantling institutional ingrained negative attitudes to class, race and sexuality.” The gallery is supported by Arts Council England, which distributes public money to organisations.
Grievance art exploits division
Ridiculous as much of contemporary art is, rather than mocking or criticising creators – who are following incentives and are as much exploited as they are exploiting – we should be examining the network of creators, curators, administrators, charity leaders and college tutors. A reliance on public funding and money donated by charities and corporations means that artists can detach themselves from responding to public demand.
These artists do not have to appeal to purchasers, patrons or public; instead, they thrive in a political-art ecosystem funded by taxpayers and ‘woke’ corporations, detached from public praise and criticism. Without such a network, this grievance art would fade away due to lack of attention.
Art that is chosen for political reasons is rarely of high quality. Art motivated by anger or self-pity is generally weak as art. Although I have not seen the material to be exhibited in Coventry (beyond a few images), indications suggest this exhibition will be no different to dozens I have seen.
Far from “disrupting the visual arts,” ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking’ is the epitome of insider-approved art promoted by the state. It is pure elitism. My personal view is that artists should be free to make the art they want – including art that is distasteful, ill-informed and foolish.
However, whether or not a nation is wise to fund (and thereby encourage) such art is another matter. Bad and stupid art should not be suppressed; it should be laughed at, or ignored. The fact that taxes fund exhibitions like this is no laughing matter. We should pause to consider the talented artists (of all races) who are not exhibited in public galleries because they make beautiful art that is apolitical.
The venue declares: “From 18 September, it will be legally required for museum staff to collect NHS Test and Trace data from visitors, and keep this for 21 days. Any visitors unwilling to provide this information will not be permitted entry into the museum.” If you visit this exhibition, you will have your personal data recorded by the government. So there’s a second reason why I shan’t be going. Perhaps even enthusiasts of grievance art and NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism will find this Big Brotherism unacceptable too.
Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
© 2020, paradox. All rights reserved.